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Rendezvous with Team Ujjeevit

When it comes to stepping forward and act or not, against social demons, especially for violence and crimes against children and women, this energetic, focused and sensitized youth group chooses to stand up, and showcase solidarity with the correct strategy and good hearts. The Saturday Fare team met Guwahati-based Ujjeevit Foundation to discuss about the issues and their role in curbing the issues.

We began with Rahul Dutta, Founder, Ujjeevit Foundation (UF). Tell us about Ujjeevit Foundation.
Ujjeevit Foundation is a youth led, non-profit organization based out of Guwahati. We have a dynamic team with a mission to create real impacts on the ground. It was last year when I decided to start off an organization to work on the issues close to my heart. I went out and discussed the idea with some of my friends and they eagerly joined in. And from there on, we have all worked collectively to try and give a shape to the organization. It was formally started on the 1st of August, 2017, and since then we have been working on a number of issues primarily concerning the young population.

Besides all other initiatives, one of our initiatives that I think can really help in the long run is “Thinker’s Adda”. It is a platform for open ended discussions where people come together to express their views and opinions on a subject of importance. The reason why I feel it is important is that today’s youth have a lot to say. However, mostly, all they end up doing is post their opinions on social media platforms. If we can get all these young people on a common platform, we may just be able to find a lot of answers to our problems.

What motivated you to establish this foundation?
I have always believed that, for our country, children and youth are our biggest assets. We have the largest young population in the world. If we can provide them with the right resources and facilities to realize their true potentials, then the nation can be transformed rapidly. However, the sad truth about our country is that the majority of our young people have little or no access to resources and facilities that they could use to excel in whatever they chose to do.

That was the sole reason why I thought of establishing this foundation. The primary objective of our foundation is to facilitate the overall development of the children and youth of the region, in every way possible.
Recently, you had organized a session on rape and violence that women and children are falling victim to. What were the objectives behind this session?

Yes, we had organized, “To Act or Let it Be”. The objective was to get everyone on a common platform to could express their angst, and also to channelize their thoughts in the right direction to try and bring about a positive change in the matter on which the event was all about.

Since you are working in the field of child protection from sexual harassment and rape. Please throw some light in this context aligned with your foundation’s role.

When we started off, we thought we would work to create opportunities for young people to learn different skills and hone their talents. But soon we realized that children in our country, unfortunately, do not enjoy the most basic right that they are entitled to and that is safety. And therefore, we decided to work on this particular matter. We intend to aggressively pursue cases of sexual harassment and rape against children that are neglected by the authorities. Additionally, we thought of empowering our children themselves and are in the process of developing a course module to be introduced in schools, which we think will be extremely helpful in this context.

Since you are also working towards helping women and putting a halt on the crime against women, what aspects, in your opinion, should be highlighted more?

We really need to look at the primary reasons as to why and how such crimes are being committed repeatedly. Of course, the way our society is structured and the kind of outlook that we have for our women are the primary reasons. However, what we really need to ask ourselves is that even after having provisions for such harsh punishments that the rapists are supposed to get, why we haven’t been able to instill a fear of law in them.
It is because most of the cases go unreported, either because the family doesn’t want a “bad name” or the criminal is too powerful for the police or the authorities to take any action. Therefore, most people think that they can get away with their crimes. This is where the real change has to be brought and the conviction rates have to go up drastically.
Parineeta Chakraborty, Member, UF, shared her remarks on hypocrisy and myths that are abundantly associated with the crimes.

When it comes to violence against women, the society has always been quite hypocritical. There has been a general tendency of the “misogynistic” section of the society to pinpoint the mistake on the woman and hold her accountable for the heinous crimes on her. One of the most common myths that hover is that the length of a woman’s dress decides her character and a short dress invites rape and sexual violence.

According to my opinion, the best possible way would be to sensitize people irrespective of age and territorial differences about such issues and take up initiatives wherein the society, in general, could be conditioned with better and more logical mindsets and this can happen only through proper education, not necessarily through books, but by encouraging conversations, discussions, various activities and so on.

She also talked about the society’s role in increasing the pain of the victim by victimization, slut-shaming, etc.
We have been witness to how a woman or a girl who has faced sexual assault or violence is showcased in various forms of media. In certain remote rural areas, the victim is kept under house arrest and even disowned by her own family. Such an attitude towards the victim instills a sense of guilt and shame in the mind of the victim. It lowers down the morale of the victim and affects her so badly that she can never get over the trauma for the rest of her life. Such an unfair attitude of the society, to a large extent, makes the men more confident of their superiority in a patriarchal society. When more than blaming the criminals, the victim is looked down upon; it is then when a society cannot get away with such acts of sexual violence on women.

Of late, there has been a paradigm shift and the scenario is slightly different nowadays. But there is a lot to achieve in this regard. The guilty ones are to be punished as severely as the law can and to help the victim recover, friends, family and the society, in general, need to contribute. The victim must be made to feel that it was not even her slightest fault and that she can no way be blamed for it. Proper rehabilitation post such trauma is essential so that the victim can lead an absolutely normal life in the days ahead.

Raktim Gautam, Member, UF, talked about how important it is to sensitize family members. How often do you speak about this with your family members?

In my opinion, in such situations or incidences, opening up to your family members is what I think, is most important. Especially, in our context, there have been a lot of stigmas regarding these issues, especially, among our parent’s generation. I think what we need is not to dismiss their opinion labeling them as conservative or “Orthodox”, but to talk it out with them to help them understand about what we think should change in the society.

Now, from the other perspective, in such situations sometimes parents are the only ones capable of providing unbiased and the right guidance to their children. To resolve the general awkwardness and avoidance of these issues within a family, the basic and the most effective way is- to talk. This again comes down to an individual and can vary from person to person.

One way to encourage this is to go for group counseling. Talking to the counsellors both individually and together, can reduce the awkwardness of talking about these issues. Another way is to include such sensitive topics in their curriculum which would in turn start a conversation with their parents in their homes. I mean, if there’s a sex education class for a child at his/her school, chances are he/she will ask their parent’s about it.

Personally, I have never been talked to by my parents until my teenage years about these issues because of their general assumption of their child not matured enough to handle this new information (which is problematic). But now since I’ve become self aware about these issues and parent’s have also what you call, more “progressive” regarding these issues. We discuss about it. As far as siblings and cousins are concerned, it’s very normal to talk it out with them.

Why is it imperative to speak up and initiate a conversation among your peer groups?
Speaking up is of utmost importance. A conversation among peers breaks the awkwardness, shyness, misconceptions and presumptions, by talking about these topics.

Rashmika Das, Member, UF, shared about a course module for the schools worked out by UF.
The objective of the course module is to fill in the vacant space in our school curriculum which is there due to the lack of any value education for children. We also expect it to directly help in the process of tackling the gender based violence in the region, and eventually, in the whole country.

We have already started working on topics as: Critical thinking, Cultural Awareness, Comprehensive Sex Education, Social Hygiene, Mental Health, and Gender sensitization. These are broader topic, there’s much more that goes under each of these topics.

We want this initiative to be an inclusive one and want a community of socially conscious individuals to be a part of this initiative. Because this is one of the causes which will require a collective effort in a way that the community itself can come up with reforms or help suggest reforms to curb this issue. Although, we are tearing this as an initiative, but we expect it to become a movement.

What is the format of the courses and where will you pitch it? The module will be text based for the volunteers, but for the students, it will be more of activities based. We have included role plays, games, charts, etc to keep the sessions interactive.
When are you planning to strike the hot iron?
June – July. You’ll know it very soon. Make sure you follow us on Facebook for all the updates!
In your opinion, what measures can the parents take to prevent such incidences?
Parents play a big role in molding children. In my opinion, I think it’s time that we break barriers and taboos and build a friendly environment for the coming generations. Parents/Guardians need to open up and talk to their children about sex, good touch, bad touch, menstruation, relationships, drugs, etc.

If you want your children to speak up with honesty, then you need to build a comfortable and accepting environment for them. If you find out your little babies are having sex or doing drugs then instead of freaking out and taking extreme actions, maybe you can be a friend and speak to them. Providing this comfort is important. Also, there is no right age to talk about sex, drugs, sexual & mental abuse and social hygiene. With the way the world is going, it’s time we teach our children and talk to them about all these issues at the earliest.

While we’re talking about other aspects of education, we checked with Animesh Bordoloi, Member, UF, who believes that youth can create a gender-disparity-and-violence-free society, about how self defense training & parent counseling can work in the rural areas.

Those are very effective ways of curbing out these problems. Self help is the best form of help and if we can inculcate the self defense mechanisms in all schools or communities, it would give us a much better chance to fight such sexual violence.

Parent counselling is significant set because, both boys and girls, should be aware of what is right and wrong. For example, the concept of ‘good touch, bad touch’. But, these are mostly seen as a taboo in the rural areas and this is where I think organizations like ours and many others should work, so that the parents are firstly made aware of why they should open up to their children.

Back to Rahul on: Since this issue has always been raised by women, we are also quite surprised to see a huge number of male participation in your venture. In your opinion, what role do men play in attending such inhumane issues?

I think men, both young & old, have the biggest role to play in curbing rape against omen. I say so because given how our society is, no female in the family is comfortable talking to the men in their lives (especially with the brothers & sons) about respecting other women and explaining them about consent and the likes. This is where men have a huge role to play. Men should show right path to their sons, brothers, fathers & friends.

What is the composition of your foundation?
We have a core team of five people, which primarily makes all the decisions. We have people, including three associate members, interns and volunteers from different backgrounds such as engineering, law, child policy and chemistry and that brings in the necessary diversity in terms of views and outlooks important for any organization.
Any new dimension, you are planning to work on in the near future?
We have started a campaign on mental health awareness, primarily for young people, but not exclusively. It’s named ‘Khul Ke Bolo’. As the name suggests, the campaign is all about urging people to speak up about their issues and not just let those issues consume them from within. We are trying to create an environment where people can easily talk about their problems without the fear of being judged. We also plan to work on improving the infrastructure of government schools and will pitch our ideas to the government soon.
What are your plans in five years down the lane?

The primary plan is to reach out to as many young people as possible and help them in every way. We would also like to spread out to other states in our country. However, as of now, we are a small organization with very limited resources. Therefore, I would request everyone to come forward and help us in any way possible. It’s a fight that can only be fought collectively and I am sure people will come out and do their bit.

Well, Saturday Fare wishes Ujjeevit for a successful journey in creating a better society for all.

About the author

Ankur Kalita